Dinnertime can be the worst, right? The kids are clawing at your leg, begging for goldfish, your husband is asking "what's for dinner?", and you are stressed out of your mind, wondering what you can throw together with half a box of spaghetti, a block of cream cheese, and some broccoli that is headed south. Pizza...? Wait, we did that last night...Sigh.
1. Menu planning makes dinnertime less stressful. At our house, the 1-2 hours before dinner are a low point in my day. Everyone is hungry and sleepy and I tend to get crabby (coffee, anyone?). Having a plan for dinner helps me have a happier evening with my family.
2. Menu planning reduces trips to the grocery store. I hate going to the grocery store every two days (or every day...) to pick up something that I forgot. It wastes so much time; plus shopping with kids? No thanks. By planning a weekly menu, I usually have everything on hand to make dinner (let's face it...I forget something on my list each week!).
3. Menu planning helps me save money. The weeks when I "wing it" at the store, I always spend too much money. Instead of buying groceries that I know we are out of, and mentally counting up dinners in my head (Monday: chicken, Tuesday: hamburger, Wednesday: pork chops...), when I grocery shop from my menu, it helps me stay on budget and avoid impulse spending or the inevitable daily trip to the store because I forgot something.
4. Menu planning helps me be healthier. I like to cook healthy meals for my family. When I menu plan, I am more likely to serve vegetables, fruits, and leans meats for dinner.
5. Menu planning reduces eating out. Oh, this is the downfall of me and my husband. "You wanna grab McDonalds while we're out?" "Sure." And the kids are happy because...happy meal, right? But while the kids may be happy, our budget isn't. When I know I have planned for pork loin, potatoes and green beans that evening, it is a lot easier to say no to the draw of the drive-through.
6. Menu planning helps me get creative in the kitchen. It is easy to get into a dinner rut, eating the same things over again over again. When I plan a weekly menu, I am more likely to try a new recipe, instead of relying on the ol' standbys. Pintrest is my best friend.
So, maybe you want to try your hand at weekly menu planning but don't know where to start.
Here are 6 simple steps to help you reap the benefits listed above!
Step One: Look at your week. Menu planning isn't just about food; it's about making your life easier. Soccer practice on Wednesday night? Crockpot meal.
Potluck at church on Sunday? Great! Cookies it is!
I like to plan simple meals, like sandwiches, on busy nights. In our family, we also plan to eat out every Friday night. Planning our restaurant eating allows us to indulge in the luxury of eating out without feeling guilty... and it gives me a break from cooking too. Win, Win.
I always menu plan on Sunday, but the key is to pick a day to plan and shop that helps you feel the most prepared to tackle the week ahead--maybe Saturday or Monday is the best day for you!
Step Two: Look in your pantry. Or freezer. Take stock of what you already have on hand (tons of pasta? Spaghetti night this week!) before you plan your meals.
Step Three: What's on sale? Perusing ads, paper on online, is a major way to save money because you can plan your menu around what's on sale. For example, if chicken breasts are 99c a pound, I will plan 3 meals with chicken: Hellman's Chicken, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, and Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup. I go to kroger.com each week before I shop.
Step Four: Click or Clip Coupons. This is another way you can save money. Since I am a frequent Kroger customer, the store often sends me coupons in the mail. I can also load coupons to my Kroger Card from their website. Using coupons to save money is up to you. Sometimes I use a lot of coupons, other times only a few. I want coupons to save me money as well as time so I am not one to scour the internet for obscure coupon deals. Make your coupons work for you!
Step Five: Plan Your Meals. This step often feels like the hardest one, especially if you are just starting to cook on a regular basis. Here are some tips to help plan a successful menu:
Start small: If cooking for the whole week feels overwhelming, plan for 3-4 meals (and work up to 6 or 7!) and get pizza or take out on the other nights. The key is to have a PLAN!
Utilize cooking resources: Pintrest is a great resource. I also like allrecipes.com--it's like an online cookbook. For simple, easy meals that use convenient ingredients, try kraftrecipes.com. Or, dig into a paper cookbook, or ask your mom or grandma for family recipes!
Plan a theme night: Make Tuesday sandwich night each week or eat "Brinner" (breakfast for dinner) each Saturday. Themes can help you fill in the blank spots on your menu more easily.
Keep your families tastes in mind: Maybe your kids love pasta so plan a regular spaghetti dinner. (Then sneak some extra veggies into the jar of sauce). There is nothing better than hearing your kids say "Yes! This is my favorite dinner."(rather than, "YUCK! Why do you always make food I hate?")
Try something new: Maybe you've always wanted to learn how to make potstickers, or lasagna, or...whatever! Plan a new meal into your menu. Trying new recipes keeps cooking fun.
Step Six: Go Shopping. Once you plan your meals, make your grocery list and go shopping (don't forget to list items for breakfast, lunch, and snacks!). I like to go to Kroger on Sunday afternoons so I can shop sans kids.
Once your shopping is done, pat yourself on the back, breathe a sigh of relief, and put your weekly menu on the fridge. That way you can simply point when you hear that daily question, "What's for dinner?"
Share your favorite menu planning tips below!